I’m not tooting my own horn here, but everything I wrote about in my last article about what the Vegas Golden Knights had to do to win a game in this series, they went out and did it on Friday night. Maybe I should stay by my phone to wait for any NHL coaching jobs. Jokes aside, the Golden Knights played one of the most complete games we have seen from them this entire season, and they did it in front of a full-capacity crowd of 17,000 fans. Without hesitation, let’s dive right in and analyze what happened in last night’s 3-2 comeback victory.
The only way the Golden Knights were going to have a sliver of a chance of winning was if they got their defensive strategies in order. I’m happy to say they did exactly that, fine-tuning their defensive scheme to suitably shut down the high-powered Colorado Avalanche offense and hold them to just three total shots in the first period. Yes, three! So, how did Vegas do this?
Vegas tweaked their defensive strategy to incorporate four men waiting at the blue line for the Avalanche’s attack to make its way into the zone. It kind of looked like a barricade wall made up of some of the finest athletes in top-four North American sports. The wall served as the ultimate challenge for the Avalanche, as they were stifled, especially speedy wingers like Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. MacKinnon was held to just four shots on goal and a minus-1 plus/minus rating. Not bad for the player who has been terrorizing the playoffs for the past two years.
What I also liked about the Golden Knights’ defensemen, in particular, was they were quick to get the puck out of the zone, whether it was via tape-to-tape passes or just clearing it out in the air so the forwards could chase after it. The defense knew that the Avalanche are the most dangerous team at five-a-side hockey, so any time spent in your own zone is dangerous. Getting it out as soon as possible assures that Colorado doesn’t even get the chance to set up their offensive schemes, because once they do, the Golden Knights are in for a world of trouble.
Bodies in Front
Another suggestion I made in my last article referred to the Golden Knights’ offensive strategy heading into Game 3. Through the first two games the team had trouble getting anything by Philipp Grubauer and the Avalanche because they were being forced to the outside and not being able to create anything more than shots from the wings. The only way to remedy that was to get bodies in front of the brick wall know as Grubauer, and make his life as hard as possible. Thankfully, the Golden Knights did exactly that.
All three Vegas goals came as the result of their being bodies directly in front of Grubauer. The first goal, courtesy of William Karlsson, was scored because he was screening Grubauer when the initial shot was deflected, found its way to his skate where he then pulled some Lionel Messi magic and kicked it to his stick before potting it home. Again, this only happened because there was mayhem in front of the goaltender.
The second goal came courtesy of Jonathan Marchessault, who, after a flurry of activity in front of the Avalanche’s net, chased the puck that flew behind the net, threw it in front, and ending up bouncing it off the backside of the netminder and in. A fortuitous bounce, indeed, but it was all started once again because of the activity distracting Grubauer in front of the net.
The last goal was the icing on the cake, as a point shot was deflected by none other than Max Pacioretty, who was making his way to the front of the net to screen the goalie. All three goals, all three coming as the result of bodies in front of the net. This is exactly what you need to do when facing a brick wall like Grubauer. If he gets clean looks at your shots and scoring chances, 10 times out of 10 he is going to be stopping that puck. The only way to beat him is to screen him, and I’m happy to say the Golden Knights finally figured that out.
Keep It 100
One of the main reasons I love playoff hockey is because the players realize what is on the line and start playing “real hockey.” You may be asking yourself; what is real hockey? In my opinion, real hockey is the type of hockey we see in the playoffs, where teams hit and are physical from the very beginning, much like hockey in the 1990s and early 2000s. Last night’s game was an honor to real hockey, as the hit total came to an exact 100 hits combined, as they split the responsibility evenly at 50 hits per team.
The Golden Knights player with the most hits in the game was none other than Marchessault, who delivered six key hits throughout the game. For Colorado, it was captain Gabriel Landeskog who shouldered the load, with a total of seven hits through the game. Both players finished with at least one point and both were instrumental in keeping their teams in the game. Let’s hope this hit total continues for the games to come, as it serves for some entertaining hockey.
Onto the Next One
Game 4 of this riveting series takes place on Sunday, as the Golden Knights play host once again at 8:30 PM. The Golden Knights are full of good news it seems, as they just took their first game in this series, as well as getting back Ryan Reaves for Game 4. Reaves is an instrumental part to this lineup, so it will be great to see him slot back into the formation. All in all, it should make for an interesting game.